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A CurtainUp DC Review
Book of Mormon

Phyre Hawkins, Mark Evans (Elder Price); Christopher John O'Neill (Photo: Joan Marcus)
So much has been written, tweeted and said about The Book of Mormon — its many awards, its sold out performances in spite of astronomically high ticket prices and the inevitability of its running forever. It was therefore with trepidation that I went to the Kennedy Center to see if the touring production would it live up to the hype?

The answer is mostly yes with some no. The very irreverent satire with lots of politically incorrect and pop culture references is, except for a few po-faced members of the audience (probably adherents to the Republican right), being very well received. Tours that turn up here a year or more likely two years after taking Broadway by storm sometimes lose some of their zest. That certainly is not the case with this production.

The cast races through the comic turns and Casey Nicholaw' s terrific choreography at a breathtaking pace. And although this is an ensemble piece through and through, there are some performances that truly stand out from the rest. Mark Evans, as Elder Price looks like the perfectly clean cut, upright, God-fearing young man he is supposed to be so his slide into moral flexibility is all the more funny. His impeccable comic timing helps, too.

The cast is almost very young, and their exuberance is exhilarating. Evans has already racked up several impressive stage credits (mainly in London) but Grey Henson (as Moroni and Elder McKinley) and Christopher John O' Neill (Elder Cunningham) are recent college graduates making their professional debuts! What a start and what a future these three performers have ahead of them.

At 6 foot 3, Grey Henson is hard to miss. Admittedly he dances center stage but even among an ensemble that is performing perfectly, he stands out as a mover you cannot forget. Plus he never milks his gags too hard, especially in the number where he recommends denying homosexuality.

If anyone steals this show, or rather this production, it is Christopher John O' Neill as the chubby, friendless schlub whose tendency to lie leads to a highly amusing confrontation with the Mormon Church' s elders that in turn results in recognition and admiration from his fellow missionaries and their African converts. It's no surprise that O'Neill started out as a comedian. He delivers his lines with an endearing child-like naivete and his physical comedy and dancing is very funny too.

Now for the bad: because of over-miking and silly lip-synching, the exposition of the openning scene is unintelligible. Fortunately, the lip-synching appears to end after the first scene. However, many of the lyrics are lost. Admittedly every house is different and every seat in it can be good or bad depending on the show and its sound designer but at these prices it would be nice for all to hear what is being said/sung. I wonder sometimes, when there are audio problems, is it me? I don' t think so and judging by the comments in the ladies room at intermission, I had plenty of company in not discerning the words. Nevertheless, the show is fun. I' ll read the lyrics online.

The Book of Mormon
Book, Music and Lyrics by Trey Parker, Robert Lopez and Matt Stone
Directed by Casey Nicholaw and Trey Parker
Choreographed by Casey Nicholaw
Scenic Design by Scott Pask
Lighting Design by Brian MacDevitt
Sound Design by Brian Ronan
Orchestrations by Larry Hochman and Stephen Oremus
Music Supervision and Vocal Arrangements by Stephen Oremus
Cast: Jeffrey David Sears (Mormon); Grey Henson (Moroni, Elder McKinley); Mark Evans (Elder Price); Christopher John O' Neill (Elder Cunningham); Mike McGowan (Mission Training Center Voice, Price' s Dad, Joseph Smith; Mike McGowan); Bud Weber (Cunningham' s Dad); Phyre Hawkins (Mrs. Brown);Trevon Davis, Bobby Daye, Christopher Faison (Guards); Jamaal Wilton (Mafala Hatimbi);Samantha Marie Ware (Nabulungi); Derrick Williams (General); Josh Breckenridge (Doctor); Jacob ben Widmar, Josh Breckenridge, JR Bruno, Michael Buchanan, Trevon Davis, Bobby Daye, Christopher Faison, Talitha Farrow, Phyre Hawkins, Daniel LeClaire, Kimberly Marable, Kevin Michael Murphy, Rashad Naylor, Jeffrey David Sears, Marisha Wallace, Bud Weber (Ensemble).

Running time: 2 hours 35 minutes, with one 15-minute intermission.

Kennedy Center, Washington, DC; 202-467-4600; July 9 to August 18, 2013. The tour then goes on to Dallas, Houston, San Antonio, Austin , Omaha, and New Orleans.

Review by Susan Davidson based on July 17, 2013 performance.
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